Fat-Free Dressing, Flab, and Inherited Cancers

Q: Is fat-free salad dressing the best choice?
Q: Is exercise or diet the answer to get rid of flab around the waist?
Q: I think that cancer must really be an inherited disease. I’ve eaten healthfully for years, yet I got cancer anyway.


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is fat-free salad dressing the best choice?
A: Not necessarily: the best type of dressing depends on your individual calorie needs and other food choices. Some fat is needed for proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene and lycopene. Studies show that about one tablespoon of regular salad dressing provides enough fat. However, any fat in other foods you are eating at the same time will also help absorb the fat-soluble nutrients. So even if you use a fat-free dressing, you will get enough fat for nutrient absorption if you have fat-containing ingredients in the salad (cheese, nuts, egg yolk) or eat other fat-containing foods at the same meal (such as chicken or meat). Fat-free dressings are usually substantially lower in calories than the equivalent full-fat version. However, reduced-fat dressings are usually almost as low in calories as their fat-free counterparts and some people may prefer the taste. We each need to identify the sources of fat and excess calories we can comfortably limit. When looking for ways to cut fat, the sources most important to limit are the high-fat meats and dairy products that supply saturated fat and the foods loaded with partially hydrogenated oils that supply most of our trans fat.

Q: Is exercise or diet the answer to get rid of flab around the waist?
A: “Flab” that is due to sagging, untoned muscles means you need exercise to strengthen the muscles in that area. Various kinds of crunches (the improved version of sit-ups) strengthen the abdominal muscles. On the other hand, you cannot get rid of excess body fat around the waist or anywhere else through “spot reducing” toning exercises. Extra body fat means that you’ve been eating more calories than you burn. Look for two or three places in your daily habits that you can switch a high-calorie drink to water or a high-calorie food to a smaller portion, for example. You can also boost the amount you exercise. Many people find that waistline “flab” calls for both losing extra body fat and toning muscles that have gotten out of shape.

Q: I think that cancer must really be an inherited disease. I’ve eaten healthfully for years, yet I got cancer anyway.
A: It’s disheartening when we do everything “right” to prevent trouble and it happens anyway. A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk, but it can’t offer total protection from cancer. Most of the genetic differences that research has identified so far related to cancer risk seem to make some people more susceptible to cancer development. Perhaps if your lifestyle weren’t so healthy, you would have developed cancer even earlier in life. Studies show that when migrants move, changing their diet and lifestyle, their risk of cancer changes. If cancer were mainly inherited that wouldn’t happen. There’s no guarantee of preventing all cancer, but the American Institute for Cancer Research reports that a healthy lifestyle – including tobacco avoidance, regular exercise, weight control and a balanced, mostly plant-based diet – allows us to significantly improve our chances of staying healthy.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

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